Green smoothies, ‘Impossible’ meats, Keto and Paleo diets, Oatly, White Claw. Year after year, our Instagram feeds evolve into a cascade of friends exploring new food trends and fads. As beautiful and sparkly as we can make a meal look, most of us spend less time drawing the connection between our diets and our abilities to create.
Creatives live highly stressful lives, and food, alcohol, nicotine, or other substances can serve as our coping mechanisms. In the short term, our vices unlock our inhibitions and exploratory thought. In the long term, we might damage our abilities to focus by aging our brain cells. This is especially challenging for creative work in 2019, a year in which creatives must also be able to function within corporate models that emphasize efficiency. Needless to say, concentration is key to preparing for a job interview or giving a presentation.
Rather than trading off creativity for efficiency or vice versa, we can unleash both while nourishing our cognitive abilities by adjusting what and how we eat!
“FOOD IS LIKE A PHARMACEUTICAL COMPOUND THAT AFFECTS THE BRAIN.”
Speaking to Artsy about his research, UCLA Neurosurgery professor Dr. Fernando Gómez - Pinilla notes, “different food components have very powerful roles in cognitive function.” Diving into some of his technical (caution: jargony) analysis, he found that “brain-derived neurotrophic factor (a protein) [responds] to peripheral signals such as food intake.”
To translate: The chemicals in what we eat send messages to the proteins in our brain that activate, ameliorate, enhance, or harm certain cognitive functions including our abilities to think creatively.
In another exciting study, researchers from the University of Otago, New Zealand, showed that fruit and vegetable consumption in 405 young adults over a period of two weeks led to higher rate of “eudaimonic well-being”, or what Aristotle meant by living a life of virtue while pursuing growth and excellence.
If that wasn’t enough, the study’s participants also reported “more intense feelings of curiosity, and greater creativity” than those who ate fewer fruits and vegetables. What these studies are telling us is that there are more “desirable” conditions for creativity and that a strong, evidence-backed link exists between what we put into our bodies and how we form new ideas, shapes, and concepts.
TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT IN HIGH AMOUNTS.
That is a tricky question because veering too far to extremes can impair our brain cells, too. For example, the glucose in sugar is our body’s main energy source and our brains use half of that energy. But, too much sugar can age our cells more rapidly.
Similarly, nuts contain zinc and lower levels of zinc helps to reduce cognitive decline as we grow older. But, nuts also contain selenium, and low levels of selenium are linked to lower cognitive functions in the average human. Balance, and, in some cases, moderation are key. Below, Dr. Gómez - Pinilla’s (vegan friendly) recommendations.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, flax seeds, krill, chia, kiwi fruit, butternuts, walnuts
- Flavonoids: cocoa, green tea, citrus fruits, red wine (in moderation...), dark chocolate
- Vitamin B6 and B12 (especially great for memory and before an interview): numerous sources. Supplements are available in local drug and grocery stores.
- Vitamin E: asparagus, avocado, nuts, peanuts, olives, red palm oil, seeds, spinach, vegetable oils, wheatgerm
- Choline: egg yolks, soy beef, chicken, veal, turkey liver, lettuce
- Vitamin C: citrus fruits, vegetables, plants, calf and beef liver
- Selenium: nuts, cereals, meat, eggs
- Vitamin D: mushrooms, soy milk, cereal grains
EAT IN MODERATION:
- Vitamin D (again): regular milk, fish liver, fatty fish
- Calcium: regular milk, oysters, beans, nuts, almonds, whole grains, sunflower seeds
- Iron: red meat, fish, poultry, lentils, beans
TREAT YOURSELF WITH KINDNESS.
We’re often on call for our clients or supervisors, ready to stop, drop, and roll at a moment’s notice. It’s a life of endurance, but these dietary recommendations can vastly improve how we perform and live. Combine this framework with 15-to 30-minutes of exercise each day, and as much sleep as you can manage given the demands of your schedule. While this is not a fix for the reforms needed in our industry, it is an important step towards keeping yourself healthy and treating yourself gently.
If nothing else, remember to eat plenty of citrus fruits and vegetables to keep your memory long and your mind open to new ways of experiencing the world around you.